No. 8 Virginia Tech 35, Texas A&M 19

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP)—Texas A&M put more of a scare into No. 8 Virginia Tech than the rain and wind of Hurricane Isabel. Two huge runs by Bryan Randall rescued the Hokies from all of it Thursday night.

Randall scrambled for 13 yards down the right sideline on third-and-6 from the Aggies’ 26 and then went 12 yards around the left side for an insurance touchdown with 8:20 left in the Hokies’ 35-19 victory.

“They both felt good,” Randall said of the runs, the second of which capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive and gave the Hokies a 28-19 lead.

“The first down was like a touchdown to me. It kept the drive alive and gave us new life, four more plays to try to get into the end zone.”

The play capped a bizarre night at Lane Stadium, on the opposite side of the state from where Isabel knocked out power to nearly 1.5 million people.

The Aggies (2-1) did a lot of their damage thanks to the arm and fast feet of quarterback Reggie McNeal, who repeatedly connected on key passes or left defenders grasping at air as he turned a corner and broke free,

But Randall’s version of catch me if you can saved the night for the Hokies (3-0) when the Aggies needed a stop to keep their hopes alive.

“It’s always disheartening when you have him and you let him out,” said Aggies defensive back Jaxson Appel, whose interception stopped a Hokies’ drive and helped Texas A&M get within 21-19 with 14:24 left.

Once Randall gave the Hokies breathing room, the Aggies helped, too, failing to field a pooch kickoff that Virginia Tech recovered and turned into Kevin Jones’ third touchdown of the night, an 11-yard run.

With 5:33 to play, the outcome was sealed and the Hokies’ string of victories in games played before October reached 27, dating to September 1996.

“They made the big plays when it was time for big plays to be made,” said McNeal, who was 11-for-21 for 133 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran 12 times for 47 yards, including a 16-yarder.

“He just flat out outran us a few times,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.

And the Hokies, too, helped out with a series of blunders.

They twice swarmed Aggies punter Cody Scates, once allowing him to escape for a 15-yard run and a first down, the next time getting called for an offsides penalty that negated a sack by James Anderson.

Pressure also caused Scates to twice get off poor punts, one setting up a short Virginia Tech TD drive, the other being misjudged by DeAngelo Hall, recovered by the Aggies and turned into a 24-yard scoring drive.

The touchdown, on a 15-yard pass from McNeal to Tim Van Zant, helped quiet a crowd looking for a reason to celebrate in the wet weather.

But the Hokies came right back, getting a 27-yard burst from Jones to start the drive and Randall’s two runs to finish it.

“He makes good decisions,” Beamer said of his quarterback. “I’ve got a lot of faith that things are going to work out right with him.”

Jones finished with 188 yards on 30 carries, by far his best game of the season despite a steady rain. He scored from 1, 2 and 11 yards and said he was relieved to finally play up to his own high expectations.

“I was definitely listening and hearing (criticism), but it didn’t really matter to me because I knew I could get the job done,” he said.

“I was just waiting for myself to do it.”

Randall was 9-for-13 for just 63 yards and one touchdown.

McNeal directed three scoring drives of 12 plays or more before halftime, the last one the sweetest—and alarming for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech seemed to have the Aggies right where it wanted them with about seven minutes left in the half. Leading 14-6, the Hokies looked for a big play after downing Vinnie Burns’ punt at the Texas A&M 2.

Instead, it was McNeal and the Aggies that made the plays.

A pass interference penalty against Jimmy Williams on an incomplete pass on third-and-7 gave the Aggies a first down on their 20. McNeal hit Van Zant for 13 and 8 yards, the second on a third-and-4 when McNeal foiled Hall’s interception hopes with an on-target laser.

McNeal added a 16-yard run after being flushed from the pocket and Courtney Lewis carried four times for 20 yards, the last 2 with 1:15 left making it 14-12 and quieting a sellout crowd looking to celebrate.

McNeal’s pass for 2 points came up short.

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